Art Project: Death Books
I have informally collected the discarded personal papers of others, finding the marks and traces of a person's learning and communications to be sacred. These papers often end up understandably, in the recycling or trash bin at the end of a life.
When my grandmother died, I asked for her papers and journals. I was left with a pile from my father’s life as well. When my friend Ron passed away, I was given notes and papers that his wife was planning to part with anyway.
These became the first formal death books.
Beginning in 2021, Death Books is a series of books, a service, and coming soon, a workshop. I make a book or an edition of books as a service for others, from the papers of their loved one who has passed on. The workshop will demonstrate how to make one of these books yourself. You can learn more or let me know of your interest by contacting me here. Below is an informal FAQ with more details as well.
Each handmade book is a chance assemblage of one person’s papers bound together in no comprehensible order or orientation. The books express how the mind and thoughts of a loved one become closed after their death, indecipherable, and yet their marks and trace remains. The books do not allow for a full reading of a single original page, but become a kind of mysterious, poetic fragment of that person's mind. Often, they are made from the discarded papers, rather than the core documents that would want to be kept in tact. Sometimes there is enough material to make an edition of two or more death books from one person's papers. The books are usually about 5 x 4” - a quarter of a standard sheet of paper, and between 1-2” thick.
I offer the service of creating one or several books for others, who have papers of a loved one. For each situation, I provide suggestions and step by step process for preparing and sending the materials.
Please contact me with any questions, thoughts or ideas.
FAQ for the Death Book service
How long does it take to have a finished book returned?
Three month turnaround time from receipt of materials to posting the books back to you.
If you need the book sooner, there is a significant expediting fee, but it can, in many cases, still be done.
Which of my departed's papers are the best for this kind of book?
Papers which show a person’s handwriting and a variety of types of papers: journal pages, lists, letters, drawings, sketches, math equations, and anything else you can imagine appreciating in book form. Also interesting and varied types of paper (lined, graph paper, etc.) make for an engaging finished book.
Because these papers will be both folded, cut, and rendered only partly legible by the binding process. it's very important that you only send papers that you and your family would not mind letting go of in whole form. The papers I used for my grandmother's death books were discarded and unwanted by others in the family, and I then sifted through them for anything that was really unusual or special, to keep aside, or perhaps to frame. These did not go into the books. Please keep those aside and do not send them to me.
How much does a death book cost?
The set up for each edition of books is $100, and if one book is made, this is the final price, plus shipping, which is about $10 in each direction (within the US). Each additional book made from the same set of papers is $65. So Two books from the same set would total $185, and three from the same set roughly $250 depending on where we ship to. Note that if there is financial hardship and you would like a death book made, we can work something out. Just contact me and let me know what you think you could afford.
How many papers should I send?
A stack 2-3” thick is more than enough. I can’t work with anything more than about 4" thick for a stack, but a thinner book can be made from a smaller number of say 30-50 pages. A thicker but overall smaller sized book can be made as well from a smaller number of pages.
How do I send the papers?
Media mail is the most affordable option, and works unless you’re doing an expedited process. You can also go with priority, insure or get receipt confirmation services if you'd like to protect these papers and be able to track them.
What will the finished product look like?
Like the others I have made, it will be a well bound, simple, hand sewn book. It's durable, but not refined. The example images you see are what they will look like. Covers are made from archival book board or in some cases, with notebook or book covers that are sent along with the book. I do not cover the covers with fabric or paper to keep the process manageable and straightforward.
What about the extra papers?
If you would like the extra papers that may be left over after the book(s) are made, I am happy to send them back to you. If you only want the books, I can either discard the papers, or, if you would like to donate them to my studio, I will incorporate them into other projects. I often use found papers in my work, and I would happily keep the papers that might work in this way, for future use, with your consent.
How is the money from this project used?
I use some of the money to buy materials for the binding process, it pays for my time, and I donate 50% of the proceeds to X charity.